Art. IX.—Presidential Address.
[Delivered to the Hawke's Bay Philosophical Institute, 11th May, 1896.]
Slave to no sect, who takes no private road, But looks through Nature up to Nature's God.
Pope, “Essay on Man.”
In my taking the President's chair on this occasion, being the opening of our sessional meetings for this year, 1896, I must, in the first place, thank you for your having again elected me to this office. And while it is my pleasing duty to do this, and to assure you I will do my best to fill it creditably, I feel a certain amount of diffidential fear lest I may fail, and so not come up to what you may have been led to anticipate; and this arises from many peculiar circumstances, which I need not particularise.
From the published report of our Council for the last year's session, which you have seen, I find there were seventeen papers on various subjects read here by members of this auxiliary branch of the New Zealand Institute during that period. As the last annual volume of Transactions published by the Institute has not yet been received by us, we do not at present know how many of those papers may, have been selected for publication in it; I hope, however, that our
society will shortly find that, if not all, a fair proportionate number will have again passed the scrutinising ordeal of the Governors and Director of the Institute.
I confess I would much rather have seen the expected annual volume of the Transactions, as from it we should have learned the number, the variety, and the quality of its papers—contributions from members of the New Zealand Institute scattered throughout the colony. And these papers, or some of them, in brief review I might with pleasure now bring before you, just to show the working of the united society during the past year, and not unlikely serving to stimulate this branch of it to greater exertions.
I have also noticed in our Council's report, just adverted to, that the number of papers read, with the President's opening address and a lecture delivered, were, at least, increased in number above those of the preceding year. As I have said before, speaking from this place, so say I now again, that I should like to see a much larger number of papers, both suitable and interesting, and on various subjects, annually introduced. Moreover, I think it is high time for some, at least, of our older members, who have been so many years in our ship as to have quite served their full term of apprenticeship, to come to the fore and perform their share of duty, if not in the work of papers, yet in the collecting and preserving of specimens in any and every branch of natural science for the museum. And here I will quote a paragraph from my last presidential address from this chair, it being still so very suitable:—
“There is yet another prominent feature in our last report in connection with the relatively fewer number of papers read here during the session of 1887—viz., the still greater paucity of their writers. This, however, should not be, as it throws the working of our ship upon a few hands only; and this, if continued, will surely bring about, not a mutiny, but the stoppage altogether of her sailing. For, in my opinion, this branch of the New Zealand Institute will droop and wither and die if it becomes, unfruitful. The ordinary meetings will not continue to be held unless there are original papers to bring before the members; and if this should happen, and consequently no papers from the Hawke's Bay auxiliary appear in the annual volume, then the large number of country and other members, who, from their residing at a distance, are precluded from attending the ordinary meetings, will cease remaining subscribers. In this ship or hive there should be no drones. Our society is both smaller and poorer than other kindred ones in this North Island—Auckland and Wellington. Happily there is no distinction made on this account; nevertheless, we here in Hawke's Bay must feel it,
and therefore it is the more imperative upon us, as a determined and devoted though small band, devoid, of those large blessings which our elder sisters enjoy—in rich endow-meats, princely gifts, resident learned scientific men, extensivé libraries and museums—to be active, to be penetrated with that genuine esprit de corps which not infrequently more than makes up for the want of everything else. In particular, let the very proper and praiseworthy spirit be shown in your attendance here on the regular nights of meeting—coming, too, in time for the fixed hour of meeting, and also in upholding the proper status of our young society—I mean the carrying-out all the standard rules in their integrity, particularly Rule 3, which, I think, was too often infringed on during the last year's session: I mention this as I have plainly perceived that, if care is not taken, our ordinary meetings are apt to degenerate into those of a low debating-club (Facilis descensus Averni); and so we cease to remain an auxiliary branch of the New Zealand Institute—a society founded for a highly different purpose.”
And here I think I should remind the members of our Institute, that original papers written by other than members themselves may be received and read at our ordinary meetings. Such papers, of course, must be introduced by a member. It would be well for our members to bear this liberal manner of acting in mind. During this last session three papers of this class were read here, written by non-members, and I thank the writers.
Closely connected with the number of papers read is the present number of our members; and I deeply regret to find their number is slowly and sadly decreasing. This ought not to be. Last year our report informed us of “a considerable decrease in the membership, which then stood at eighty-four, the smallest number on the books of the society for many years past.” This year the new report gives the remaining number of them as seventy-four, four having resigned and two died, to which, however, six new members have to be added, making the present total of members eighty. Fairly considering the great, the important value of such an institution as this, especially in a newly-settled country, and, with special reference thereto, the great number of educated youths yearly leaving school, one is tempted to ask, Why is it that so few of them are found here with us—if not as enrolled members and co-workers, yet as visitors of our museum and library, and hearers at our stated meetings, which are now thrown open to the public? Is it so, that out of those many youths and young men, several of whom gained high prizes, at the various school-examinations, and of whose future career high hopes were entertained, there are none to be found in love
with nature and natural science in all its varied forms, so as to continue and carry on those studies begun at school? Our youth are the hope—the strong hope, the backbone—of this young and rising colony, destined in due time, under God's blessing, to become a great and mighty nation, or a fair and flourishing portion of a still mightier empire, and therefore they should be seeking to grow, to improve, in knowledge and wisdom. Nothing is more sure than this: that school knowledge and attainments allowed insensibly to wither and rust soon become forgotten; and, once forgotten, are seldom, if ever, found again. There is a law in nature according to which success is proportioned to the labour spent upon it, both in kind and in degree. Success is attained in kind, for what a man soweth that shall he also reap; success is also proportioned to labour in degree, for he who studies much will have more than he who studies little. In almost all departments it is the diligent hand which maketh rich. And here let me, not only as your elected President pro tem., but as a very old man of some understanding in these matters, and therefore speaking from experience—let me proffer a little sound advice.
The powerful and active enemies of science and of general learning (especially here in the colony) are too great love of holidays and of idleness, of frivolity and of fleeting pleasures, which yield no enduring satisfaction; which generally, if not invariably, look for more, never being satisfied, and mostly leaving “an aching void.” And should there be, before the final close, a few hours or days free from pain and extreme weakness for reflection, then the sad heart-rending vista presents itself of time lost, of noble, almost god-like faculties abused, of a wasted life! Our classical British poet, Thomson, might well exclaim, while meditating on such scenes:—
Where now, ye lying vanities of life!
Ye ever-tempting, ever-cheating train!
Where are you now? and what is your amount?
Vexation, disappointment, and remorse.
Sad, sickening thought! and yet deluded Man,
A scene of crude disjointed visions past
And broken slumbers, rises still resolv'd,
With new-flush'd hopes, to run the giddy round.
And heartily wishing well to the scholars and youth and young men and women of Hawke's Bay, I would yet add a few more words by way of further illustration, and with the hope of raising thought.
In student-life there are those who seek knowledge for its own sake, and there are those who seek it for the sake of the prize, and the honour, and the subsequent success in life that knowledge brings. To those who seek knowledge for its own
sake the labour is itself reward. Attainment is the highest reward. Doubtless the prize stimulates exertion, encourages and forms a part of the motive, but only a subordinate one, and knowledge would still have a “price above rubies” if there were no prize at all. They who seek knowledge for the sake of a prize are not genuine lovers of knowledge. They only love the rewards of knowledge; had it no honour or substantial advantage connected with it they would be indolent. It is a spurious goodness which is good for the sake of reward. The child that speaks truth for the sake of the praise of truth is not truthful; the man who is honest because “honesty is the best policy” has not integrity in his heart. Would that the parents of families here in Hawke's Bay could be brought to duly consider this, and to perceive the great and lasting advantages and benefits and true pleasures arising: from the following of Nature and her manifold teachings, and so direct and lead their progeny into something better than the low frivolities and transient pleasures and waste of time of the present age.
For, believe me, there is a rapture in gazing with a trained eye on this wondrous world. Let us not depreciate what God has given. The highest pleasure of sensation comes through the eye; she ranks above all the rest of the senses in dignity. He whose eye is so refined by culture and discipline that he can repose with pleasure upon the serene outline of beautiful forms has reached the purest of the sensational raptures. There is a joy in contemplating the manifold forms in which the All-beautiful has concealed His essence—the living garment in which the Invisible has robed His mysterious loveliness. In every aspect of nature there is joy; whether it be the purity of virgin morning, or the sombre grey of a day of clouds, or the solemn pomp and majesty of night; whether it be the chaste lines of the crystal on the yonder Ruahine Mountain-range, or the waving ever-changing outlines of distant hills (as those south beyond Havelock and north towards Wairoa) tremulously visible through the slanting rays of the setting sun; the minute petals of the New Zealand daisy, or the overhanging forms of mysterious ancient forests: it is a pure delight to see. I hope a better day is at hand for our Government schools, when Education Boards (if existing) or Committees (when formed of proper literate men) will pay full attention to this one great qualification, or main desideratum, on the part of teachers seeking situations—viz., their love for natural science and for scientific study, and their aptness to teach such both out of school as well as in school. Such a teacher in a country school would prove a real blessing to the youths under his care, and be a great means of keeping them from degenerating on leaving school, as well as preserv-
ing them from “larrikinism.” Scientific study should be largely inculcated by kind and plain words, by manuals, and by example, for science has extended into all portions of life. What I mean by a scientific education is not the mere confined knowledge of that one branch taught, or one thing brought more particularly under consideration, whether Euclid's problems or natural science—the science of living things, as seen in the wondrous, complex, yet perfect and beautiful structure of a fly, a shell-fish, or a moss (for beauty's best in unregarded things)—the mention of which as a useful study is too often met with a “Cui bono?” For the opinion is often expressed that certain scientific pursuits are not compatible with the business pursuits of life. But there is no greater fallacy than this, as we may see in the living instances of many eminent men of our time — Sir John Lubboek, for example. A true scientific education is the teaching of the power of observing, the teaching of accuracy, the difficulty of attaining to a real knowledge of the truth, and. the methods by which one may pass from that which was proved to the thought of that which was also capable of being proved. The first thing to learn is the power of observing, the power of seeing things in their relations to other things, and the modifications they might undergo. This, though a rather difficult thing, is attainable. Science teaches not only how to observe, but how to record facts, and how to arrive at general conclusions upon facts. The habit of accuracy which science inculcates makes a man accurate in the ordinary business and pursuits of life. There are many people—good people—who would not tell a lie, but for their fives they seem as if they could not tell the exact truth. Now, science teaches the difficulty of attaining truth, and shows how to arrive at it. It is said of the celebrated John Hunter, who delighted in plain language, that he once said, if he wished to sum up his advicè to students it would be, “Don't think; try.” What he meant was, when one was satisfied about certain principles, do not think that you can think what must necessarily follow, but try, test, experiment, observe, record facts, then you would see whether what you thought was true was really true.
Moreover, scientific processes also gratify our love of novelty, of wonder. All have an insatiable appetite for the wonderful; civilised man is still everywhere like the Athenians of old, eagerly inquiring after “some new thing.” And to a certain extent (if, indeed, such should ever be limited) this common trait is conducive of great good, as, in spite of many failures, it continually leads to the advancement of our race.
I have already barely mentioned the death of two of our members. As, however, this is unusual with us, I would offer a few observations concerning them. Those two gentlemen,
Mr. F. H. Meinertzhagen and Mr. H. S. Tiffen, were old and Valuable members of our Institute; both of them were original members from its foundation in 1874 (when lovers of natural science were few who joined us), and these require a special brief notice.
Mr. Meinertzhagen resided for several years at Waimarama, a little south of Cape Kidnappers, where he carried on his natural science investigations, and from him I received several letters and specimens, and also interesting letters from London after his leaving New Zealand. He early became a life member, paying the £10 fee—and here I may remark that at the same time, or, rather, for ten years preceding, he was also a member of the Auckland auxiliary branch, of which society he was also a life member. This double membership, with their expenses, and not being able to attend any of our meetings owing to the distance of his residence from Napier, shows his appreciation of natural science and of our New Zealand Institute. A paper of his on a new species of Aplysia will be found in the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute,” vol. xii., p. 270, which also further indicates his modesty and kindheartedness.
Mr. H. S. Tiffen also was one of the founders of our society. Although he wrote no paper for our meetings, he was always a warm supporter of them, while his beautiful and extensive garden, greenhouse, hothouse, and ferneries were always cheerfully open at our service. From the ferneries especially, containing such a large and varied collection of both foreign and native ferns, both Mr. Hamilton (our late curator) and myself have derived much valuable, true, and living information with specimens. Mr. Tiffen, being a devoted lover and disciple of Flora, introduced a large number of flowering-plants, shrubs, and trees from various parts of the globe regardless of expense, his flower-garden, the admiration of visitors and tourists, being the best one in Napier, if not on the whole east coast of New Zealand.
Our society being a branch of the New Zealand Institute (and bearing in mind the ancient, natural, and instructive Roman fable by Menenius Agrippa to the mutineers, of the body and its members, “Livy,” ii., 32), I should not omit to bring to your notice, with all due respect, the death of another member of the New Zealand Institute, one of the first scientific men, if not the earliest resident pioneer of science, in New Zealand—the late Hon. W. B. D. Mantell, M.L.C., F.G.S., &c., with whom I was always most friendly acquainted. Mr. Mantell, although not a member of our branch society, was a member of the Wellington auxiliary branch from its, beginning, and also one of the founders of the still earlier Wellington Philosophical Society, and one of the nominated
governors of the New Zealand Institute from its creation in 1867. Mr. Mantell arrived in New Zealand in 1840, and worked hard and long in the pursuit of natural zoological science, especially in the collecting fossil osteological remains of those many kinds of enormous land-birds (once common in New Zealand, but long extinct) popularly known by the name of moa, though now separated into several distinct genera by the aid of still more extensive and perfect modern acquisitions, obtained from all parts of the colony, in which scientific work I may also (and with pleasure) mention the name of our former respected and indefatigable secretary and curator, Mr. Augustus Hamilton, of whose loving zeal and assiduity-and knowledge our museum bears ample testimony. Indeed, the closing word of Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph (the architect of St. Paul's) is equally applicable here to Hamilton—“circumspice.”
And, having made that little digression, I may here fitly quote, from a late paper of mine touching on the moa and Mr. Mantell (read before the Wellington Philosophical Society in 1892), what Dr. Mantell, his father, had published respecting the first lot of moa-bones he had received from his son in New Zealand. The Doctor says, “The first collection sent to England by my son in 1847 consisted of nearly 900 specimens; I gave Professor Owen the exclusive privilege of describing them.”* I feel the more inclined to relate this circumstance as being an apt illustration of the pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, and as an encouragement to our young men of this generation and district to “go and do likewise.”
Before, however, I quit this sad subject there are yet two more names I would bring before you from the long and mournful death-roll of men of science in 1895. The first is that of the Right Hon. Thomas H. Huxley, LL.D., F.R.S., and P.C., who died in June last. Mr. Huxley was also an honorary member of our New Zealand Institute, having been elected so long back as 1872 (together with Sir George Grey, in that year). He had also been out here in the southern seas as assistant-surgeon on board H.M.S. “Rattlesnake,” on a surveying expedition in Torres Strait. During his four years' cruise and service on board the “Rattlesnake” he wrote several scientific papers, which were sent home by him to England, and published during his absence. I well remember this ship, with Captain Hobson (afterwards our first Governor), in 1836, at anchor in the Bay of Islands; and mentioning this serves to bring vividly to mind our distinguished New Zealand botanist Sir J. D. Hooker, who had also filled a similar official situation on board H. M. S.
[Footnote] * “Status quo”: Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. xxiv., p. 472.
“Erebus,” which ship (together with the “Terror,” her consort, forming the antarctic expedition), wintered in the Bay of Islands in 1841. Though Mr. Huxley has not been, particularly connected with New Zealand matters, yet of him it may be also truly said, as of the great navigator Captain Cook, he is “the man of all countries, all peoples, and all times.” Several other good reasons I certainly have for bringing his name before you on this occasion arise from the facts of his having long been a member of the Royal Society—and at one time its President—and of the determination of the Committee in London to erect a suitable memorial to his memory, to be placed with those to Owen and to Darwin in the Natural History Museum, South Kensington; and of the Committee writing to me (as a member of the Royal Society) and to others of us here in New Zealand to consent to have our names placed on the Committee-roll, and further to assist in this great national work; and especially from the fact of Mr. Huxley having been actively engaged down to the last hours of his life in promoting the superior and free education of youth in the colonies. From official papers lately to hand I find that at the first meeting of the Committee their list, with His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales at the head, included more than seven hundred eminent names, many of them being distinguished foreigners. The closing sentence from the speech of the President, Royal Society, Lord Kelvin, who proposed the first resolution, I may briefly bring before you: “His moral lessons from his biological work extended even into the field of politics, and his contributions to thought in respect of theology in themselves are such as to put Huxley's name and fame in a very high position indeed, as a man thoroughly determined to give all the benefit he could to mankind—as a worker who gives his life, who sacrifices his health, who sacrifices his time, who gives up everything for the advancement of science; but, as he tells us himself, with an object which he felt to be even greater than the advancement of science, the promotion of the welfare, moral and material, of mankind—who deserves a memorial or a monument better than Huxley?”
Lord Playfair also, in supporting the resolution, said, “It is scarcely necessary to say one word in regard to the eminence and the scientific position of Professor Huxley; but it has been my privilege to be associated with him in many of his undertakings and labours as a public man…. In higher education the Scotch University Commission benefited by his wise counsel and breadth of culture. The present position of technical education also owes much to the advocacy and the scientific lectures which Professor Huxley gave through the country. There is one labour in
which to the time of his last illness I had great pleasure in being associated with him—that was, in the establishment of scientific scholarships of £150 a year in almost every college and university, not only in the United Kingdom, but in the Empire of India, and throughout all our colonies. That was a subject very dear to Professor Huxley's heart…. He was a much-valued adviser in all matters relating to the establishment of these scholarships. They are all research scholarships, and are now exercising a benign and important influence over the science education of our great empire.”
And our old, well-known, and staunch New Zealand friend, Sir J. D. Hooker (chairman of the provisional committee), in moving the second resolution, said, “We both entered the public service as assistant-surgeons and volunteer naturalists in the royal navy. Before Professor Huxley went out in the “Rattlesnake” the choice lay between us for the appointment to that vessel, and, fortunately, the choice fell upon him. Immediately upon his return a strong friendship sprang up between us, which has lasted forty-five years, throughout which he has been one of my staunchest and firmest friends. This friendship has affected me through life, and I owe a great deal of my success in scientific life to the advice, the stimulus, and the example which Professor Huxley set me during a long career.”
Here must end my quotations. I believe that circulars respecting this great national movement have been sent to some of the members of this Institute, and to several other residents here in Napier and Hawke's Bay, by Professor T. J. Parker, F.R.S., of Dunedin, which is another good reason for my bringing this subject before you.
The second name is another of literally world-wide fame—Louis Pasteur, who passed away from us in September, 1895. Fifty years ago, before he entered on his grand biological work, Pasteur made a discovery of first-rate importance in physics and chemistry—the formation of crystals. For ten years he was chiefly occupied with researches related to the subject of that great discovery. Near the end of 1857 he entered on the line of research to which he devoted the rest of his life, and by which he conferred untold benefits on humanity and the lower animals. Helmholtz had in an earlier work proved almost to a certainty “that the actual presence of a living creature [“vibrio,” as he called it; “bacterium,” as we more commonly call it now] is necessary for either fermentation or putrefaction.” Pasteur gave complete demonstration of that conclusion, and early expanded it to vast and previously undreamt of extensions of its application. From Pasteur's discoveries, Lister was led to work out the principles of antiseptic surgery, the practice of which he commenced in the Glasgow Royal
Infirmary in 1865. Having been led to trace microbes as the origin not only of fermentation and putrefaction, but of a vast away of destructive blights happening to plants and animals—vines, silkworms, birds, cattle, and mankind—Pasteur was forced to take up the question, as of supreme importance, “Whence came these microbes, and what are their antecedents?” We are sometimes told, “from warmth and moisture”—and this, too, in scientific journals of 1895, under the more learned name, perhaps, of “abiogenesis,” or the fortuitous concourse of atoms! Without wasting words' to prove theoretically that while stones falling together may, as we all believe they have actually done, make a solar system with a habitable planet or planets, they cannot make a man, or a microbe, or an organic cell, with its property of heredity. Pasteur set about practically to trace the antecedents of every microbe he met with; and he found for it in every case a living thing, whether in the air, or in water, or in earth. During nearly all the latter part of his life, and to the end, Pasteur devoted himself to biological research, and to vigorous practical realisation of its benefits for the world. And we here, in this far-off colony, are receiving benefits from Pasteur's labours and discoveries. I have felt constrained to say these few words in honour of that great chemist and biologist.
And now for a few words respecting some of the higher scientific discoveries of the past year. To this subject, however, I can only make very scanty allusions; but this is a small matter, as you have already heard of them from better-informed Sources.
Probably the discovery of a second gas as a component in our common atmospheric air stands pre-eminent. I allude to helium; its great ally being argon, also lately discovered by Lord Rayleigh. Then there is anti-toxin, as a remedy in certain forms of severe disease; and more lately the curious and highly-important discovery by Professor Röntgen of photographic rays, or the “new light,” by which near objects unseen by mortal eye, through their being imbedded and hidden in opaque bodies, are made clearly visible. This interesting discovery, which is likely to become very serviceable in some cases of surgery, has already attained a high position in the medical world, especially on the Continent of Europe. Indeed, we are continually receiving notices from abroad of fresh and further useful and surprising discoveries being made in this direction. I shall be able to show you a plate as an object-lesson representing its operation, which will cause it to be the more readily understood. But I do not exactly fall in with the statement so commonly made in connection with this important discovery—that the camera of the photographer can now
make clear and plain what is invisible to the naked eye—that is, as if the naked human eye at its highest standard was the acme, the ne plus ultra, of vision. For such use of photography has long been known—at least to astronomers; for hundreds of stars, some of great magnitude, yet invisible through the best telescopes, are made known to us thereby, and have been correctly mapped.
Moreover (and without entering on the wonderful and complex and perfect physical mechanism of the human eye), we may see in the animal kingdom, especially in the class of birds, how vastly their powers of seeing exceed those of man. Let us briefly consider this, as it contains an immense field for interesting and pleasurable thought, and some of the objects are common, near at hand, and easily comprehended—omitting the well-known owls, with their strong nocturnal powers of vision far surpassing that of man. Take, for instance, the common Maori kingfisher (Halcyon vagans = Kotaretare). I have watched this bird, or the pair of them, at the season of rearing their young, quietly perched on an outstretched dead branch of a lofty timber tree overhanging a streamlet, 50ft.-60ft. high, when suddenly, like an arrow, the bird descends into the water below, and immediately emerges with a tiny fish in its bill. So, also, I have at other times noticed them to act on a cricket, beetle, or lizard in the grass and low herbage. A still commoner show of the superior sight of birds, even when on the wing soaring on high, is also everywhere around us exhibited—over land by the hawks discerning a mouse running among the fern, or a young duckling or other water-bird among the long sedges and rushes of the swamps; over the sea by the various species of gulls and terns, who, notwithstanding the rippling and the colour of the water, descend with rapidity like a leaden ball beneath the wavelets, and arise with their prey. But all this is yet surprisingly surpassed by the giant vulture—the condor of the Andes. Here I will, with pleasure, quote the natural and admirable words of Darwin, who had so frequently witnessed them in their natural haunts: “The condors may often be seen at a great height, soaring over a certain spot in the most graceful circles. On some occasions I am sure that they do this only for pleasure, but on others the Chileno countryman tells you that they are watching a dying animal, or the puma devouring its prey…. When an animal is killed in the country it is well known that the condors, like other carrion-vultures, soon gain intelligence of it, and congregate in an inexplicable manner. In most cases it must not be overlooked that the birds have discovered their prey, and have picked the skeleton clean, before the flesh is in the least degree tainted…. Often when lying down to rest on
the open plains, on looking upwards I have seen the condors sailing through the air at a great height. Where the country is level I do not believe a space of the heavens of more than 15° above the horizon is commonly viewed with any attention by a person either walking or on horseback. If such be the case, and the condor is on the wing at a height of between 3,000ft. and 4,000ft., before it could come within the range of vision its distance in a straight line from the beholder's eye would be rather more than two miles. Might it not thus readily be overlooked? When an animal is killed by the sportsman in a lonely valley, may he not all the while be watched from above by the sharp-sighted bird? And will not the manner of its descent proclaim throughout the district to the whole family of condors that their prey is at hand?” (Darwin's “Naturalist's Voyage,” pp. 183–186; a book that should be in the hands of all our rising youth.)
Still, while we here see the enormously superior powers of unaided vision as shown by birds, man, too, not unfrequently exceeds that of the common human powers of range, of which I myself have known instances in New Zealand, and therefore am inclined to relate them. In former years I have satisfactorily proved this, in viewing with my telescope the planet Jupiter, and also the cluster of stars called Pleiades in the constellation Taurus, when I found that the Maoris could see more stars in the Pleiades with the unaided eye than I could, for, while I could only see clearly six stars, they could see seven, and sometimes eight. This feat has also been done at home in England, though very rarely, some few there having distinguished as many as twelve stars. This cluster has been mentioned in poetry as far back as Hesiod, B.C. 900 (contemporary with Homer), who alludes to them as the Seven Virgins. In the ancient MS. of Cicero's “Aratus,”* preserved in the British Museum, the stars are named Merope, Alcyone, Celieno, Electra, Maia, Asterope, Taygeta. Though they have ever borne the name of the “seven stars,” yet to ordinary eyes six only are visible. My reason for mentioning this ancient astronomical MS. of the third or fourth century is that I happen to have a copy of it with a fac-simile of the faces of those seven virgins which I think will interest you.† To return: the Maoris also could clearly distinguish and point out with the naked eye the satellites or moons of Jupiter, with their respective and changing positions.
In botany (having read two or three papers containing descriptions of some newly-discovered New Zealand plants before the Institute during the last session. which I hope may
[Footnote] * “Aratus,’ Greek Astronomer, 277 B.C.
[Footnote] † “Archæologia,” vol. xxvi., art. iii., p. 47.
be published in the forthcoming volume) I shall merely call your attention to two recent noticeable successes in the cultivation of remarkable plants in our colonies; one being that of the date-palm (Phœnix dactylifera) in the West Indies (Antigua), where it now bears ripe fruit, and, no doubt, will ere long become an article of commerce; and one being the magnificent water-lily (Victoria regia) of the River Amazon, that has lately flowered at Sydney, though many years ago (1849–50) it flowered in its big tanks at the Royal Gardens, Kew, and also in the private gardens of the Duke of Devonshire and the Duke of Northumberland, when it was fully described by the late Sir William Hooker. (Of this remarkable plant I hope to show you by-and-by some large coloured drawings from Sir W. Hooker's magnificent work, together with some interesting extracts from the writings of its fortunate early discoverers.)
I have especial reasons for calling your attention to the date-palm, it being one of the oldest-known cultivated plants yielding food for man; its fruit is also well known here. This plant and the banana, Musa sapientum (of which I read a. paper here two years ago),* are the only two prehistorical fruit-producing plants. The date-palm flourishes in Egypt, Nubia, Morocco, Persia, and Arabia, and even India, and is now, as ever, commonly used by a very large number of mankind, and that, too, in its native country, in a far more economical and useful manner than it is here by us, we only eating the fleshy part of the fruit, rejecting the hard seeds or stones, which are also used by the Arabs for food; for, hard and dry as they appear, they are ground into a kind of coarse meal, on which the goats and camels feed with greediness, and in the longest marches across the desert neither man nor beast require other food, if they have also a little water or camel's milk to allay their thirst. And, as the banana has of late years been naturalised and extensively cultivated in some of our British colonies, and thus become an article of commerce, so, it is hoped, in due time the date will also be: Although the date-palm is frequently mentioned in the Bible (particularly in the Old Testament), and always with approval, yet, curiously enough, there is not an instance of its being spoken of as producing a fruit valued as a food for man.
I should not pass unnoticed two great events of this present; year, which have been much talked of, one being natural and sure, and one dependent on the hardihood and ability of man. The former is a remarkable total eclipse of the sun, which will take place on the 8th–9th of August, but, unfortunately for us, will not be visible here in New Zealand. Its
[Footnote] * Trans, N.Z. Inst., vol. xxvi., p. 334.
appearance will commence about two hundred miles north of Scotland, out at sea, and will cease on the Pacific Ocean at 180 degrees of east longitude and 20 degrees north latitude. Though invisible here, I mention it for two reasons: (1.) It is exciting active scientific consideration at Home and throughout the old civilised world, so that great preparations are being made for the proper observation of it. Some months back the “Norse King,” a large steamer of 3,000 tons, was chartered to take an astronomical party to Vadso, in Nova Zembla, in order to observe this eclipse; while similar arrangements will also be carried out for Japan. On this occasion two instruments will be used, one called a cœlostat and the other a heliostat, their purpose being to deflect the rays of the object into a fixed telescope, instead of having to put the telescope itself into motion. The importance which attaches to the investigation of the sun during eclipses is very great, for it is only at these times, and during brief occasional opportunities, that knowledge of its physical construction and conditions can be obtained. It is only when the brilliancy of the flood of light which emanates from its whole surface is shut off from our eyes by the intervening moon, and we are left in the darkness of the lunar shadow, that we are able to see the corona radiating from the vast orb, and here and there within its zone the remarkable outburst of still more luminous combustions—certain brilliant star-like points, commonly called “Baily's beads,” and irregular flame-like protuberances on the dark edge of the moon, usually of a pink or rose colour. Although solar eclipses are annually in greater number than lunar eclipses, they are more locally distributed, and, whilst the shadow of the lunar eclipse rests over a full hemisphere, the solar eclipse is a mere streak on the earth's surface. Hence the necessity for expeditions of observers. And (2) to tell you what I have myself observed, in a small way, with reference to the corona radiating from the sun, or, more particularly, those irregular flame-like projections, but not during an eclipse. During several years, in the month of December, and about the middle of it, or on or near to our longest day—the 21st—I have been employed in watching with my glass the sun at sunset and seeing it descend south-west beyond the Ruahine Mountain-range, about fifty miles distant, when two things I have noticed—one being a kind of corona or areola, with long, attenuated, red flames, ever changing, proceeding from its margin (much as the sun is represented in drawings of it when eclipsed), and one an abrupt bare rock or broken precipitous crag on the crest of the mountain standing out in bold relief and black shade in front of the sinking orb. These interesting sights are only to be seen for a few evenings, owing to the daily change in the apparent position of the sun travelling
a little more either to the north or to the south, as the case may be,—which is also so clearly shown by the bare, perpendicular edge of the rock on the crest; and I think that those red, flame-like emissions are at these moments seen owing to the intervening dark mass of the mountain-peak or -crag, which occupies a similar though smaller position to that of the dark body of the moon during a solar eclipse. Of course the whole solar object is only that of the image of the sun correctly reflected in the clear atmosphere above, and lasting but a very short time. I may mention that I had to pay a little for my temerity in looking steadily at such a bright object without using a coloured glass, for during some time after so observing it whatever I looked at wore a greenish-yellow hue, some objects, owing to their natural colours, being rendered disagreeable. This, however, gradually wore off. I think I have observed this pleasing natural phenomenon during four or five years, but not consecutively, owing to the sky being sometimes clouded at sunset. I have often thought of writing a short paper concerning it, and giving sketches of its appearances; one of them I now lay before you, made, however, mainly from memory. Other persons, no doubt, in days to come will also have the pleasure of observing this peculiar spectacle from this spot on Napier Hill.
And here I cannot refrain from expressing my belief—notwithstanding the enormous and wonderful advances the true knowledge of astronomy has made of late years, almost (to use a well-known colonial phrase) “by leaps and bounds,” and, also, how very much of this superior knowledge is now commonly and daily taught in our public schools—that many—too many—of our rising generation are really no better off, no farther advanced, for all this imparted and surely-grounded scientific knowledge than the ancients were when they firmly believed that the glorious starry heavens above them were just as a fixed glass (or metal) dome over their heads, and the stars placed there as twinkling lights to give light by night to the earth, which earth, moreover, with its contents, was also the principal part, the chief, of all creation, or of the universe.
Without expatiating on the wonders of astronomy or the knowledge of the stars—on the grand, far-reaching, and captivating subject of the immensity of space; its gloriously never-ending infinitude, and the hundreds, yea thousands, of stars—other worlds, never yet seen by mortal eye, which even our best telescopes do not—cannot—reveal, yet the more modern science of photography has faithfully made known and fixed—I would briefly and in plain words mention a few of the more striking heads of this branch of science, which perhaps are but little known or considered.
(1.) The large and ever-increasing number of planets now known—nearly two hundred—as compared with the small number known to the ancient astronomers (six or seven with the moon); most of them also having been discovered during this century; each planet, like this globe of ours, correctly and everlastingly pursuing its uniform course in its own proper orbit around the sun in the solar system, without the least deviation therefrom.
(2.) The incalculable number of stars as of late years revealed by their (so to speak) thickness in depth, the same having been to some extent gauged. And, as I wish you all to clearly understand me, let me endeavour to put this term into plain language. Suppose our great New Zealand forest began here on the very edge of the sea-shore in Hawke's Bay and extended thence fifty miles over yonder plains to the base of the Ruahine Mountain-range, or even over a continuous flat country to Cook Strait; and suppose a boat landing for the first time here on the beach, and officers and men going up to the margin of the said big forest, they could only see the outside trees forming its margin, or, at most, a very little way into the forest; and now, supposing further a straight road was cut from the entrance right on to the farthest end of the said forest; and now look along this far-extending vista through the trees with a glass, and for the first time the beholder would know something more of the expansion—of the thickness, of the depth, of the multitude—of trees of the forest before him. Well, just so it is with the stars. These which we see on the clearest nights are but few in number in comparison with those others unseen by our eyes lying far beyond them, but which, as to depth and thickness, have been in part gauged by our greatest modern astronomers. The greatest number of stars visible at any one time to the unassisted human eye above the horizon, is no more than about two thousand, including every star as low as the sixth magnitude, although, and very likely, some of you may have believed you could see many more; but this fallacy is an optical delusion, mainly owing to their scintillations. The minute invisible ones, however, composing the groundwork of the heavens have been counted by tens of thousands, or even by hundreds of thousands. With telescopic aid the observable stars are too numerous for any accurate determination of their number. M. Argelander, a zealous German astronomer, has, however, several years ago, actually published a catalogue of the exact positions of no fewer than a quarter of a million of stars greater than the tenth magnitude.
Here in our southern skies we have several splendid constellations, which many a European astronomer would rejoice,
to see, as Argo Navis, Crux Australis, the Milky Way between Scorpio and Centaurus, with the two neighbouring first-class stars in the legs of the Centaur, commonly called the “Pointers.” Moreover, in the same region, and among them, are some curious and peculiarly-attractive objects, very plainly visible on clear nights. I will just refer to some of them:—
(1.) Those two dark adjacent spaces, called by the old navigators “Coal-sacks,” near Centaurus and the Southern Cross; these black and apparently starless vacancies are, however, occupied by many telescopic stars.
(2.) Two others, distinct white patches, known by the name of the “Magellanic Clouds,” are not far off from the Coal-sacks, the upper being termed the “Nubecula Major,” and the lower the “Nubecula Minor.”
(3.) The constellation Crux Australis, or the Southern Cross, always visible, and forming with the two “Pointers” such a glorious sight on a starlight night, has ever been an object of universal attraction. The upper and lower stars, being of similar right ascension, are always on the meridian about the same time, and consequently serve to indicate the approximate position of the South Pole, which is distant about 27° 38′ from the largest and nearest star in the Cross. Here with us this constellation never sets below the horizon. It also presents to our view the daily movements of a south circumpolar star, so beautifully shown by the group of four stars composing it. In the course of the day the constellation will have made a complete circuit round the South Pole. In this week (of May) those four principal stars are on the upper meridian at 8.45 p.m.; on the next day, at 2.44 a.m., the earth will have turned on its axis through one-quarter of its revolution; the stars will therefore apparently have passed over one quadrant, or the fourth part of the circuit, being at that time due west of the South Pole. At 8.43 a.m. they have performed one-half of their circuit, being now near the horizon on the lower meridian. At 2.42 p.m. they are due east of the South Pole, while the complete revolution is made at 8.41 p.m. At the hour of ‘midnight this constellation is in the four positions—north, west, south, and east of the South Pole—at the end of March, June, September, and December respectively. The two principal stars in Centaurus (already mentioned) are both easily recognised above Crux Australis; Alpha Centauri, the celebrated double star, being that nearer the meridian, while Beta Centauri is between it and Beta Crucis, the most easterly of the four principal stars in the Cross. Alpha Centauri is one of the largest double stars in the heavens, and one of the nearest to our solar system. This double star has been frequently observed for the determination of its parallax.
A few observations from our early scientific and thoughtful voyagers may prove interesting:—
Captain Basil Hall, during a cruise in the southern ocean, refers to the varying position of the stars at the Southern Cross as seen from his ship at sea. “I have observed it,” he remarks, “in every stage, from its triumphant erect position, between 60° and 70° above the horizon, to that of complete inversion, with the top beneath, and almost touching the water. This position, by the way, always reminded me of the death of St. Peter, who is said to have deemed it too great an honour to be crucified with his head upwards. In short, I defy the stupidest mortal that ever lived to watch these changes in the aspect of this splendid constellation and not to be in some degree struck by them.”
Again, the remarks recorded by M.M. von Spix and Karl von Martins, in their account of their scientific travels in Brazil in 1817–20, give a very fair specimen of the feelings experienced on these occasions. It is related by them that, “on the 15th June, in lat. 14° south, we beheld for the first time, that glorious constellation of the southern heavens, the Cross, which is to navigators the token, of peace, and, according to its position, indicates the hours of the night. We had long wished for this constellation as a guide to the other hemisphere; we therefore felt inexpressible pleasure when we perceived it in the resplendent firmament. We all contemplated it with feelings of profound devotion as a type of our salvation.”
The scientific Humboldt has expressed his thoughts in almost similar terms. Referring to his first view of the constellation, he observes that, “We saw distinctly, for the first time, the Cross, of the South, on the night of the 4th and 5th of July, in the 16th degree of latitude. The pleasure felt on discovering the Southern Cross was widely shared by such of the crew as had lived in the colonies. In the solitude of the seas we hail a star as a friend from whom we have been long separated. Among the Portuguese and the Spaniards peculiar motives seem to increase this feelings—a religious sentiment attaches them to a constellation the form of which recalls the sign of the faith planted by their ancestors in the deserts of the new world.” And, again, Humboldt remarks, “How often have we heard our guides, exclaim, in the savannahs of Venezuela or in the deserts extending from Lima to Truxillo, ‘Midnight is past, the Cross begins to bend.’”
I feel the more inclined to give you those items as not infrequently in my own lonely night-watches on-the open plains during my long travels in the olden time, fifty to sixty years ago, I have been visited and impressed with similar thoughts and feelings in looking up and contemplating the
sky, most especially on some very calm and clear night when, in addition to those constellations and stars already mentioned, I have also had those of Orion, Taurus, Scorpio, Canis Major, and others, and sometimes (as lately Here) the brilliant planet Jupiter—together forming a glorious mind-elevating sight. At such seasons, alone beneath the solemn vault of heaven, when the stars were looking down in their silent splendour, an overpowering sense of high feeling steals over one—of time and eternity—of man's littleness and God's greatness. Yet too often, accustomed as we are from our youth upward to see Nature's works outspread before us in eternally renewing riches, we commonly pass them coldly by.
There is also another pleasing natural sight close at hand—the silent, orderly, yet ever-changing march of the regent of the night, the moon, across the vault of heaven: not merely to note its different phases night after night, but also its conjunction with the planets and larger stars, as given in the “Nautical Almanac”; especially to note its passing between the earth and one of the larger really bright stars—to see how instantaneously the star disappears when hidden by the moon, and how soon and clearly it reappears when the moon has passed by. It is mainly from this well-known appearance that astronomers have fairly and reasonably deduced the fact of there being no inhabitants in the moon, as that single natural phenomenon shows us that the moon has no atmosphere around it, for if it had the star would have been hidden thereby before the moon should pass it.
Yet another curious and little-known item respecting two of our greatest southern stars—Achernar, in Eridanus, and Canopus, in Argo Navis—is this: that these are the only two which never rise above the horizon of Europe whose names-have been derived from the ancient astronomers, showing, clearly they were anciently known to them.
To return: The latter of those two great events alluded to by me as taking place this year is the antarctic exploration, which is now sought to be conducted and carried out on a grand and novel scale, even to the wintering there far within the Frozen Zone and not far from the South Pole. And this daring achievement, I have no doubt, will some day be effected; but, for my part, I do not anticipate any great additions to the sciences of zoology, botany, and geology.
The remark has more than once been made to me that so much has been done of late years in the natural sciences, zoology and botany especially, in the discovery of new species in New Zealand, that now little remains to be done. This, however, is not correct; there are hundreds of animals and plants in our colony yet unknown to science waiting to be detected and made known. Take, for instance, two small yet
perfect genera of mosses—Grimmia and Orthotrichum—hitherto only known, each genus, by four to five indigenous species, but in the last volume (xxvii.) of the “Transactions of the New Zealand Institute” Mr. R. Brown, of Canterbury, has described no less than thirty new species of Grimmia and forty new species of Orthotrichum. In the same volume also are some scores of new species of the smaller animals described. Plenteous harvests yet await the patient and zealous seeker and observer; but, even if it were not so, the natural delight arising from closely contemplating the wondrous and manifold operations of nature is beyond expression a rich reward. It has been recently observed that “discovery crowds so quickly on discovery that the truth of to-day is often apt to be modified, or amplified, by the truth of to-morrow.” True; yet a single fresh fact may throw a wholly new and unexpected light upon the results already attained, and cause them to assume a somewhat different aspect.
In conclusion, I should like to say a few more words (it may he my last words) on the beauties of nature, by which we are surrounded on land and sea, in the hope of inciting some one of my more youthful audience to come out and enlist under Nature's maternal banner. For while, on the one hand, I know (alas! too well) that there are but a very small number At present inclined that way, yet, on the other hand, this is partly owing to the want of some good, kind, efficient, and loving teacher to strike the dormant chord within the breast that awaits the sympathetic touch, when, like a common match or an electric spark, it immediately responds, and the long latent but now never-dying flame is enkindled, and a new life begins.
It has long seemed to me that the good time is coming, and ere long, perhaps, will suddenly come, when some loving scientific teacher in a school (it may be in a retired country one) will be led to begin this good and useful work—at first in a humble, unpretentious way, but ere long to be warmly adopted by a whole band of willing, loving, active, eagerly-inquiring young disciples, whose wholesome and pleasing pursuit after the attainment of natural science will be amply rewarded to themselves, and followed after by others; for once begun in reality such is sure to spread, being a matter of truth and life.
I would that I might see this welcome movement begun before that I shall have to say my last farewell to you and to Napier.
Lastly, in closing my long address, I would ask your indulgence for two things apparent in it—the one its being rather irregular (written at intervals, in various moods, between paroxysms of pain); the other its being generally of a
homely nature—that is, of things and matters near at hand—lying around us; of things, it may be, that you all knew before; yet, I trust, all done with the very best intention.
I trust you will have perceived that, while throughout my address I have avoided trenching upon theological matters, there is a silver thread of true religion running through it. Further, as pertaining to the great object of the New Zealand Institute, I, as an aged minister of religion and a fervent disciple of Nature, and with increasing convictions of the truth (soon by me to be realised), would say one word more to my audience, re our talents and our time here: that as you sow now you will reap hereafter. Young friends, don't waste time, don't abuse talents; seek to make the best use of both. Our bodies will remain, but our minds will go with us!
And, in a few beautiful and expressive lines of our classical English poet, Thomson (already quoted from by me), I close:—
nd life, thou Good Supreme!
O, teach me what is good; teach me Thyself!
Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
From every low pursuit, and feed my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure—
Sacred, substantial, never-fading bliss.